Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to speak on the subject of the throne speech. While the throne speech deals with the subjects of the Americas and Arctic sovereignty, I would also like to state what the Prime Minister has stated on many occasions, which is that the other regions of the world, specifically Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia, are also equally important for Canada and for Canada's foreign policy.
Since the throne speech dwelled on the Americas, I will keep my remarks today to just that region. The Americas are a region of potentially high economic trends and the region is growing faster because of favourable international conditions and generally more effective microeconomic policies.
The regional GDP expanded by an estimated 5.3% in 2006, marking a third consecutive year of expansion above 4%. The past decade has seen real gains in the advancement of economic openness in the region. Most countries in the region have embraced market based reforms and trade liberalization. There remain, however, serious income disparities and development challenges.
Politically, important gains have also been achieved in the Americas. In the past year alone, there were 10 national elections that met international standards in transparency and fairness. At the social level, however, the region remains the most unequal in the world in terms of income distribution. Despite high levels of growth in recent years, large segments of the population continue to be marginalized, and women, young people and members of the indigenous groups and of African descent are disproportionately affected.
At the regional level, the Americas benefit from a network of well established regional institutions. The Organization of American States stands at the centre of this network. The organization has increased its effectiveness in support of democracy, particularly in fielding numerous electoral observation missions with strong Canadian support.
The Inter-American Development Bank is the largest multilateral lender to the Latin American and Caribbean region, surpassing even the World Bank, with loan disbursements of $6.5 billion U.S. in 2006. Other institutions of the inter-American system play a constructive role in addressing key challenges in the region. These include the Pan American Health Organization, the United Nations economic mission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the key inter-American institution for the promotion of human rights in the region.
There is also the Summit of the Americas, the only leaders' forum for the entire hemisphere. The next one will take place in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009 and will provide a good opportunity to engage hemispheric leaders on a number of key issues for the region.
In sum, the western hemisphere has made substantial progress on democratization and economic development. Yet significant challenges remain, including persistent poverty and inequality, which in turn have fueled the resurgence of populist models of governance.
Canada is reinforcing its high level engagement in the region based on serious analysis of both the opportunities and the challenges that lie ahead, focusing Canadian leadership and making a difference. These political and economic opportunities and challenges found in the hemisphere require a multi-pronged engagement. Our engagement is based on the promotion of mutual interests here in Canada as well as the region.
Our approach is therefore based on three interlinked and reinforced objectives. The first is prosperity: to secure and expand our economic interests in established and growing markets in the region. Canada needs to act in support of progressive governments, and leaders in the region who demonstrate that democracy and an open market can deliver the economic benefits and security that people crave.
There are exciting commercial opportunities that can bring mutual benefits of employment and economic growth. Canada is now the third largest investor in the region. This, in turn, is generating increasing demand for Canadian products and services. Since 2003 Canadian exports to the region have risen considerably, more than 75% from 2003 to 2006, compared with exports to other regions of the world at 15.5% during the same period.
With its young population, growing middle class, sustained economic growth and abundant and diverse natural resources, the region has significant economic potential that is poised to bring benefits both to its people and to countries like Canada that develop strong commercial linkages. It is losing ground, however, to competitors like the U.S. and the EU that are aggressively negotiating and concluding new trade agreements.
Canada has benefited greatly from free trade. Trade agreements generate economic activity that contribute to healthy economies and the alleviation of poverty through the creation of remunerative employment opportunities.
Sustainable and equitable economic development strengthens the social fabric's foundation of countries and contributes to a domestic environment where human rights, good governance and the rule of law are respected. Canada is therefore committed to the pursuit of trade liberalization, particularly with partners in the Americas that share our objective of regional economic integration.
Building on the successes of NAFTA and our mutually beneficial free trade agreements with Chile and Costa Rica, FTA negotiations were recently launched with Colombia, Peru, the Dominican Republic and the CARICOM. Efforts continue to conclude the Canada-Central America Four free trade agreement with the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. All of this trade translates into jobs and prosperity, both here and throughout the hemisphere.
I want to highlight why Canada is very much engaged in this. Historically, Canada has been engaged with these regions and we will continue to work with these regions, as I have outlined, most importantly because Canada is also in the Americas and it is important for us to make sure that our neighbours are also prosperous. Prosperity in our neighbourhood means greater prosperity also for Canada, hence the Prime Minister's re-engagement with the Americas. We will continue doing that.
Again, I am very happy to mention that this does not mean other regions will not be engaged. We continue to engage with other regions.
The recent announcement of providing honorary citizenship to Aung San Suu Kyi is one of those moments in Canadian foreign policy that gives pride to all Canadians as we stand up for democratic rights.